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America’s Top 50 Donors Show How Tech Riches Continue To Shake Up Philanthropy

A new list from the Chronicle Of Philanthropy shows how much Silicon Valley moguls are reshaping the giving field.

America’s Top 50 Donors Show How Tech Riches Continue To Shake Up Philanthropy
[Image: RadomanDurkovic/iStock]

America’s top 50 donors gave a combined $14.7 billion to charity last year, according to new research by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That’s close to triple the amount given by the same set in 2016, with the majority of the deposits driven by an emerging philanthropic force: tech money.

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Eleven of the top contributors made their fortunes in tech, the Chronicle’s data shows. That vanguard might still be relatively small by headcount, but they have contributed 60% of the value in overall gifts. Their grand total is $8.7 billion.

The top three biggest givers are power couples with familiar pedigree: Bill and Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Priscilla Chan, and Michael and Susan Dell. Each gave to a foundation or charitable-minded operation that they’ve launched and not-shyly named for themselves—that’d be the Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Dell Foundation, respectively. The reason for this comes back to the tech mogul mindset.

[Image: RadomanDurkovic/iStock]

“They are frustrated that in a century or more of philanthropy we aren’t making more progress in tackling the biggest challenges of the day,” Stacy Palmer, the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s editor in chief told Fast Company previously when the organization had their first inkling about who the country’s most generous people to give publicly would be. “They made their fortunes when they were much younger than the old-style philanthropists and started their philanthropy at an earlier age–not waiting for retirement as the older generation tended to.”

The goals of these cause groups are also vast, covering topics like eradicating poverty, improving global health, and promoting equality, among many other world-changing ambitions.

Others on the list include eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, who donated $257.5 million to Omidyar Network (their foundation that acts as an impact investor for social good) and other groups like Humanity United, Democracy Fund. Jack and Laura Dangermond, the cofounders of a GIS mapping company Environmental Systems Research Institute, contributed $165 million to the Nature Conservancy. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg gave about $98 million largely to a donor-advised fund that redistributes to two groups she’s associated with: LeanIn, which supports women leaders, and OptionB, which assists people coping with the death of loved ones and other life traumas. As the Chronicle notes, she’s also a big supporter of Planned Parenthood.

[Image: RadomanDurkovic/iStock]

Other givers in that $90 to $100 million range include Salesforce’s Marc and Lynne Benioff, who gave to a variety of causes covering disaster relief, homelessness, and urban improvement projects. And Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who gave $40 million to support the growth of computer science at University of Washington.

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Others who gave to higher education, include Facebook’s Taner Halicioglu (for computer science at University of California, San Diego) and Austin McChord, who founded who founded the data protection company Datto (to encourage entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, and AI programs at Rochester Institute of Technology). At the same time, Intel’s Gordon and Betty Moore, donated heavily the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

Supporting classic institutions like colleges and medical centers doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel for how charity work is done. But it’s also not surprising given the recent findings from Open Impact, a social change advisory firm, which showed that many extremely wealthy tech entrepreneurs face a steep learning curve in figuring out how to efficiently redistribute their wealth. “As our research reflects, the supply of philanthropic capital among ultra-wealthy donors is driven by their personal values and interests–not by ‘rational’ economic behavior,” the report adds.

Breaking that cycle takes time and often a track record of making smaller donations to feel more comfortable before you give even bigger. After all, tens of millions is still pocket change to some people.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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